12 common questions about sexual orientation to use with students


Previously I ran a blog called So What Squad alongside this one, but time constraints meant I needed to fine tune my social media presence, so I am moving all the posts over to this blog. This is the fifth of six posts.
The question and answers below were developed from a fab PDF resource from an activity for Life planning education program produced by Advocates for youth. However some of the terms we weren’t happy with and as it is an American resource we angliscised it slightly and also had colleagues from Stonewall to vet the answers to be as comprehensive and accurate as possible.
You could do this in a lesson (the resultant discussion may take up an entire lesson!): With the class either ask students to come up with their own questions about sexual orientation or ask the class the following frequently asked questions. Discuss each question using the answers below as a guide.

1) How many people are lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB)?

It is estimated between 5 and 10% of all people are LGB. However, there is no hard data on the number of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in theUKas no national census has ever asked people to define their sexuality. Also many people hide their sexual orientation to protect themselves against stigma and discrimination. Various sociological/commercial surveys have produced a wide range of estimates, but there is no definitive figure available. Within the next couple of years, data about sexual orientation will be included in national data sets and sexual orientation will be monitored more habitually, for example in job applications so clearer statistics will be developed and we will all have to become accustomed to answering questions about our sexual orientation.

2) What makes people gay?

It is not known what makes people gay, lesbian or bisexual just as it is not known what makes people heterosexual. Biology may play a role either in genetics or within the womb. There is no evidence to suggest how you are brought up affects your sexual orientation. Reinforce that it is not a choice whether or not you are gay, just as you cannot choose your ethnicity.

3) Is being gay a disease?

Homosexuality is not an illness of any kind-mental or physical. On 17th May 1990 the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders ending centuries of medically legitimized homophobia. Because ‘homosexual’ was the medical term to describe being LGB as a disease, many LGB people still find the term offensive and often prefer to be identified as ‘lesbian, gay or bisexual.’ Remember we should respect how other people identify themselves.

4) How do I know if I am lesbian, gay or bisexual?

Some people know from an early age that they are lesbian, gay or bisexual and others may take longer to realise or come to terms with their identity- remember social pressure to be heterosexual can make it hard for people to accept being lesbian, gay or bisexual. Sadly, many people don’t come out until much later in their lives, after living a ‘heterosexual’ life because of social pressure or being unable to accept their identity. Just because someone has lived many years as ‘heterosexual’- this doesn’t make their identity as LGB any less valid when they do eventually ‘come out.’ As public attitudes towards LGB people become more accepting it should become easier for people to ‘come out’ earlier in their lives. Many people have same-sex relationships or sexual experiences at any point in their lives but do not identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Its up to each person to define their sexual orientation.

5) Can you always tell if someone is lesbian or gay?

No, the only to know if a person is lesbian, gay or bisexual is if they tell you. There are as many different types of people in the LGB community, as there are in the heterosexual community so relying on stereotypes about how LGB people look and behave won’t tell you anything.

6) Is it against the law to be homosexual?

Laws making it illegal to be lesbian or gay would violate the most basic human rights of an individual. In most parts of the world including the UKit is NOT illegal to be gay. However some countries have criminalised sexual activity between two people of the same sex. Punishments for breaking these laws can be fines, imprisonment or even the death sentence. See Avert age of consent chart for more information- http://www.avert.org/aofconsent.htm. In theUK the age of consent for 2 people to have sex is 16 regardless of sexual orientation.

7) Do gay men, lesbians and bisexuals try to make other people LGB?

It is not possible to ‘change’ or ‘turn’ someone’s sexual orientation and LGB people are more aware of this than anyone. Some people within the heterosexual community may try to ‘turn’ LGB people heterosexual or tell them it is wrong to be LGB. This is discrimination- we should accept everyone for who they are. It is a myth that lesbian and gay men want to have sex with everyone of the same sex. In the same way that within the heterosexual community there are many types of relationship and sexual practices, so it is the same within the LGB community and many lesbian and gay couples have long term monogamous relationships in the same way that mixed sex couples do.

8) How do two men or two women actually have sex?

Two men or two women have sex in most of the same ways that straight couples do. It may involve mutual masturbation, oral sex, penetrative sex (vaginal or anal), using sex toys and having orgasms together. These activities are not exclusively for people within opposite sex relationships or same sex relationships.

9) Is HIV a gay disease?

No across the world HIV is mostly transmitted through heterosexual sex. Having anal sex is a significant risk factor in transmitting sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Straight couples have been found to be less likely to use condoms for anal sex than gay men. Although when HIV/AIDS was first discovered it was the gay community in theUKthat was hardest hit, the infection level is now much higher in heterosexuals than gay men.

10) Do gay men sexually abuse little boys?

Most cases of sexual abuse actually involve heterosexual men, not gay men. Perhaps as many as 85-90% of sexual abusers are heterosexuals and a family member or friend of the family. Paedophilia – being attracted to children is in no way linked to being gay. This is very offensive myth about gay men. Remember that since 2002 same-sex couples can adopt and many gay men now have families and are parents in the same way that heterosexual couples are,

11) Why are gay men so camp? Or gay women so butch?

These are stereotypes about the LGB community. Not all gay men are “camp” and not all gay women are “butch” (and using these words can cause offence to some people). Making assumptions about someone’s sexual orientation because of the way they look or behave is discrimination. Just because a man or a woman does not fit into a perceived stereotype of masculinity or femininity, does not make them gay or lesbian. There are many different types of lesbians and gay men as there are heterosexual people. Think about your group of friends- do you all look the same, dress the same, act in the same way? Of course not, so why would a whole community all look, dress and act identically!

12) Why don’t gay men or lesbians just have a sex change?

People who want to have a sex change are called “transsexual” or “transgender”. Some people feel they have been born into the wrong body and undergo an operation to change their sex so that their body matches the way they feel as a person. Other people may dress up as the other gender but not want to have a sex change (“Transvestites or Cross-dressers). Gender identity is different to sexual orientation. Both heterosexual and homosexual people can be “trans”. Trans people have a sexual orientation as well as a gender identity and the two are not related. Trans people may identify as heterosexual or LGB.

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